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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Learn how to prevent and recover from chemical dependency as well as the aftereffects of chemical dependency on you and your family. Read Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. series of Recovery books.

The Progression of Chemical Dependency: The Three Stages of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

Dear Dr. Steve:

My husband has been drinking off and on for 10 years yet he doesn't think he has a problem. He tells me that he can quit any time he wants and, to his credit, he often times does quit for short periods of time. However, I notice that whenever he quits drinking, his marijuana use increases. I can’t seem to get through to him. Any time I try to talk to him about it he tells me “to get off his back—this is America and I’ll do whatever I want to do.” He insists that he doesn’t have a problem—that I’m the one with the problem. Then he starts comparing how little he drinks compared to how much my father drinks, which leaves me speechless. He points out that he’s held the same job for the last eleven years, pays all the bills on time, and never lets me forget how it is he who does all the work around the house. Does my husband have a problem with alcohol? Should I be concerned about how much of our lives seem to be consumed by his drinking, our lying to others and ourselves about his drinking, our fighting about his drinking, and our ignoring each other because of his drinking?

Yes you should be concerned. Your letter raises plenty of red flags about your husband’s relationship with alcohol and other drugs. His rationalizations about his use of alcohol and other drugs are a red flag as well. It is very common for somebody who is in denial about their alcohol and other drug use to lament that I can’t be an alcoholic because…

I can’t be an alcoholic because I am functioning in my day-to-day life and alcoholics are hungry, homeless, and desperate.

I can’t be an alcoholic because I have a job and alcoholics can’t hold a job.

I can’t be an alcoholic because I have a family and an alcoholic loses his family.

I can’t be an alcoholic because I have my health and alcoholics have cirrhosis of the liver.

I can’t be an alcoholic because I only drink beer and alcoholics drink hard liquor.

I can’ be an alcoholic because I never drink before dinner-time and alcoholics drink from sunrise to sunset.

I can’t be an alcoholic because I only drink on the weekends and alcoholics drink 24/7.

I can’t be an alcoholic because I can quit any time I want and an alcoholic can’t quit at all.

And so the refrain goes, a person convinces themselves of what they’re not because of the misconceptions they have of who a person is that abuses and becomes dependent on alcohol and other drugs. But the truth is that alcohol and other drug abusers come from all walks of life—the rich and the famous, the down and outers, the very intelligent and those who are not so smart, those who are as kind as can be and those who are mean and miserable.

Alcoholism and drug addiction have nothing to do with what one drinks, how much one drinks, when one drinks, when one doesn’t drink, what kind of job one has, how much one’s family may or may not love them. Alcoholism and drug addiction are equal opportunity diseases. One aspect of the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction is that they are progressive diseases. This means that there is a beginning, middle, and last stage of this disease. Anyone can diagnose somebody who is in the last stage of the disease of alcoholism and/or drug addiction. The person has been all but ruined emotionally, financially, and spiritually. But there is an early stage and a middle stage of the diseases of alcoholism and drug addictions that are not as obvious to detect. Symptoms of each stage are listed below.

Early stages: Social Drinking

Drinking to calm nerves.
Increase in alcohol tolerance.
Desire to continue drinking when others stop.
Uncomfortable in a situation where there is no alcohol.
Relief drinking commences.
Occasional memory lapses after heavy drinking.
Preoccupation with alcohol (thinking about the next drink).
Secret irritation when your drinking is discussed.

Middle stage: Loss of Control Phase
Rationalization Begins

Lying about drinking.
Increasing frequency of relief drinking.
Hiding drinking and/or sneaking drinks.
Increasing dependence on alcohol.
Drinking bolstered with excuses.
Feeling guilty about drinking.
Increased memory blackouts.
Tremors and early morning drinks.
Promises and resolutions fail repeatedly.
Complete dishonesty.
Grandiose and aggressive behavior.
Loss of other interests.
Unable to discuss problems.
Family, work, and money problems.
Neglect of food/controlled drinking fails.
Family and friends avoided.
Drinking alone and secretly.
Possible job loss.

Late Stage: The person now thinks that
responsibilities interfere with
their drinking

Radical deterioration of family relationships.
Unreasonable resentments.
Physical and moral deterioration.
Loss of “will power”
Onset of lengthy drunks.
Urgent need for morning drinks.
Geographical escape attempted.
Persistent remorse.
Impaired thinking and memory loss.
Loss of family.
Decrease in alcohol tolerance.
Successive lengthy drunks.
Medical and/or psychiatric hospitalizations.
Indefinable fears.
Unable to initiate action.
Extreme indecisiveness.
Unable to work.
Obsession with drinking.
All alibis exhausted.
Complete abandonment: “I don’t care.”

The point of this symptom checklist is that people who suffer from the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction don’t start deteriorating until they reach the final stage of their disease. Until that point in the progression of the disease there are other signs and symptoms of the disease that are less obvious, more subtle and harder to detect. However one can be chemically dependent based upon the presence of these less obvious symptoms.

Learn how to prevent and recover from chemical dependency as well as the aftereffects of chemical dependency on you and your family. Read Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. series of Recovery books—From Insanity to Serenity.

Pathfinder’s Checklist
1.) Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases.
2.) Denial prevents an individual from acknowledging that they have the disease.
3.) These are progressive diseases that have a beginning stage, middle stage, and a late stage.
4.) Each stage has identifiable symptoms.
5.) An individual can get help for themselves before their disease progressives to the late stages of the disease.



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